Tacoma mulling plan to require surveillance cameras in taxis

TACOMA, Wash. -- The City of Tacoma hopes adding more eyes on the road will help keep taxi drivers safe from the thieves and thugs who prey on them.

But some local taxi companies say installing surveillance cameras could be job killer.

Everyone agrees that security cameras are needed in Tacoma, but the issue is how much they would cost and when the taxi companies would be required to install them.

Yellow Cab driver Danny Ertz has built a steady clientele of customers in Tacoma. But he also picks up random fares, and he never knows what might happen during the ride.

"I've had run outs. I've been shot at, stabbed at. I've even had a cat thrown at me," Ertz said.

He feels fortunate to have never been hurt, but Tacoma city leaders want to minimize the risks even further, and they think they could do that by requiring surveillance cameras in every licensed cab in the city.

"We'd be much better off with a camera, not only to protect our riders, but ourselves too," Ertz said.

Cameras are already required in Seattle and King County taxis, and those cameras have captured images of a number of armed robberies. They also helped convict a man who killed a taxi driver in 2007 and then set his cab on fire.

Crime statistics from the Seattle Police Department show that once cameras became mandatory in 2005, the city saw a huge drop in armed robberies against cab drivers.

"What it actually does is reduces the amount of risk," said Ahmed Roble, the general manager at Yellow Cab in Tacoma.

Roble supports having cameras in his vehicles, but he's concerned about the cost. He'd like to phase in the equipment over time, which he said could save the company from laying off drivers or selling cars.

The ordinance before the Tacoma City Council would require 100 percent of a company's fleet to have cameras all at once or face losing their license.

"There's many advantages to having cameras. The drawback is the amount of time and the initial cost," Ertz said.

The camera systems cost anywhere from $200 all the way to $1,000 per unit. The council could take its final vote on the issue next week.